Watcher (2022)

Holy Hitchcock, Batman!

From its Read Window voyeurism to Julia’s (Maika Monroe) resemblance to classic Hitchcock blonde Tippi Hedren, Watcher is a first-rate homage to the 20th century’s finest suspense filmmaker.

Best of all, it’s exquisitely crafted by writer-director Chloe Okuno, who orchestrates grinding fear and dread for a serial killer’s potential victim, a woman who knows too much in a country where she doesn’t speak the language.

Julia and her husband Francis (Karl Glusman) have just moved to Bucharest for his work. Julia, a one-time actress, is left to entertain herself in their new apartment for long periods of time while Francis wheels and deals.

Right off the bat, Julia is unnerved by a silhouette in a window across the street, a figure that seems to be fixated in her direction. In what becomes a pattern, she tries to tell Francis about the suspicious person, only to have hubby minimize her fears.

Meanwhile, women alone in their apartments are turning up headless. Yeah, thanks for your concern, Francis! Probably nothing to worry about.

There isn’t an ounce of flab on Watcher. Dialogue is minimal. Each frame is a precision brick in a wall of menace that threatens to fall on Julia at any moment. Precarious angles of endless invention are used to create a perpetual male gaze on Julia, a person seen, but not heard, due to a language (and gender) barrier.

Maika Monroe (It Follows, The Guest) continues to bloom, transcending the genre’s Final Girl status and emerging as a reluctant action hero, correctly channeling frustration and rage into not only self-preservation, but victory.

Make no mistake: in the hands of a lesser actress this film would not have achieved such thrilling peaks. As the unwilling object of a madman’s desire, Monroe is charismatic, capable, and committed to each character moment, as only someone fighting for their life can be.

Julia’s determination to find her tormentor and destroy her victimhood provides serious octane in Watcher, a sleek thriller that both embraces the Hitchcock tradition, and flips the camera back onto the audience (and Hitchcock), as if to ask, “What are you looking at?”

Definitely a Top Ten film of 2022. See it straight away.

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Freeze (2022)

Well, let’s see you make a tale of Arctic terror on a microscopic budget!

Written and directed by Charlie Steeds (Winterskin, Death Ranch), a MetFilm grad with an abiding love of bygone horror tropes, Freeze is a Lovecrafty pastiche of Victorian Era exploration that bravely demands your attention, despite being financed by old soda bottles.

Captain Roland Mortimer (Rory Wilton) charts his warship the HMS Innsmouth (hint) to the North Pole in search of his best friend, William Streiner (Tim Cartwright), a fellow sea captain who disappeared two years before in search of a passage through the ice.

It doesn’t take long for the Innsmouth to get frozen in the ice and set upon by Deep Ones, so Mortimer and his intrepid crew of a half-dozen men abandon ship and try their luck on the frozen tundra.

The Arctic region isn’t very large, so Mortimer and company soon discover a massive cave containing a few stiffs from Streiner’s earlier voyage. After that, they discover Streiner himself, who has gone native and joined forces with the so-called “Icthyoids” in a vague scheme of world domination.

All he needs to lead his baggy suited fishmen to victory is his copy of The Necronomicon, which Mortimer thoughtfully provides.

Freeze is old, old-time entertainment that would have worked just as well as a radio play accompanied by scary sound effects and a wheezy organ. Of course, then we’d miss grotty details like Streiner biting his best friend’s fingers off, and admittedly, that’s a fun scene.

Steeds cheerfully peppers the proceedings with DIY practical effects that any Dr. Who fan would endorse, particularly the pesky Icthyoids, who resemble a Sleestack dance company when appearing en masse.

So what can we really say about Freeze? Campy enthusiasm and resourceful story telling can still save the day, if you agree to meet them halfway.

Deadstream (2022)

Now that’s what I’m talking about!

As if to put an exclamation point on my earlier observation that internet adventurers are the new Red Shirts, along comes Deadstream, the Apocalypse Now of found footage horror.

Sean Ruddy (Joseph Winter) is an internet personality who stages dangerous stunts that also manage to be offensive, such as getting smuggled across the Mexican border in the trunk of a car.

After his latest spectacle goes horribly wrong, Ruddy hopes to apologize and move on, but his fans are deserting him in droves, peppering his inbox with destructive criticism.

Comments pop up throughout the movie acting as a sort of Greek chorus to the action, which is plentiful. Even as Sean battles all manner of paranormal entity, the comment string keeps up a barrage of fan posts that are funny, annoying, and even surprisingly useful.

Among my favorite comments: “Glad I’m not you,” “Better start praying,” and “Please sign this petition at Move.org so Sean will stop being be such a pussy.”

In order to atone for a bad call, Ruddy comes clean to his public about the one fear he’s never tackled—ghosts.

So, strapped with all the latest gear thanks to a sponsorship from an energy drink company, the repentant daredevil vows to spend a night in the most haunted house in America—that he can successfully break into without getting arrested.

The lion’s share of Deadstream originates from one of Sean’s cameras that are spread throughout Death House, the site of his viral vigil, or mounted on his person.

Admittedly, this is a long time to be looking up Sean’s nose, but writer-directors Joseph and Vanessa Winter reward our patience by throwing everything but the yeti at our fearful protagonist.

Sean spends an enchanted evening fending off angry spirits, misshapen freaks, and a hot girl named Chrissy (Melanie Stone) who wanders into the chaos.

Like the legendary Don Knotts in The Ghost and Mister Chicken, Joseph Winter delivers an unhinged scaredy-cat performance, that comes garnished with the best girlie shriek of man-terror I’ve heard in a minute.

As Sean Ruddy, a man who will do anything to please the ever-present and increasingly fickle comment string, Winter willfully throws himself into a thankless part, that of sacrificial lamb to his voracious followers.

Ruddy makes himself vulnerable to the dark forces of the house and to his followers. Will the truth set him free?

His unwavering commitment to see the project through drives Deadstream to thoughtful new frontiers that bear examining. For instance, shouldn’t everyone come equipped with a Stupid Things To Do spin board?

Simply in terms of pound-for-pound raw energy, and entertainment bang for the buck, Deadstream is a hot ticket.

I was a wee bit disappointed that the Winters decided to pay homage to Sam Raimi about three-fourths of the way through the film, precisely because they had managed to avoid doing so up to that point.

The Deadites must have a strong union.

Jamie Marks is Dead (2014)

“Adam, you don’t want a dead boy lurking around outside your house, trust me.”

Writer-director Carter Smith distinguishes himself mightily with Jamie Marks Is Dead, a ghost story about friendship and duty from beyond the grave.

Adam McCormick (Cameron Monaghan) is a high school cross country star who becomes curiously attached to the ghost of a murdered classmate, Jamie “Moonie” Marks (Noah Silver).

Marks’ body is found at the riverside by weird goth girl Grace Highsmith (Morgan Saylor), with whom Adam quickly becomes romantically involved. This development leads to the discovery of Marks’ ghost, still shivering and dressed in skivvies, skulking around Grace’s backyard.

“We all have a choice, Adam,” Grace tells him. “I choose not to see him.”

Driven by pity for Marks, a friendless boy routinely tormented by his fellow jocks, Adam vows to help the wayward spirit, giving him clothes and a place to live in his own closet.

Adam reaches out because he’s lonely, too. His own brother Aaron (Ryan Munzert) is a macho douchebag, while his trailer park mama (Liv Tyler) has chosen to share their home with Lucy, the drunk driver (Judy Greer) that put her in a wheelchair.

Adam affectionately nicknames her “the Paralyzer.”

At this point in the narrative, the viewer will surely make assumptions about Adam eventually being forced to disentangle himself from an increasingly needy spook. Smith, who adapted the novel One For Sorrow by Daniel Barzak, avoids the obvious track.

Instead, Adam atones for his callous indifference to the suffering of a fellow soul, by pledging emotional support to someone he never cared for in life.

The action takes place in another one of those blighted, boarded-up little towns that appear bereft of anything resembling empathy or compassion.

But sometimes humanity rises to the occasion.

Jamie Marks is Dead, is a fascinating, somber movie that will surprise a few people, thanks to an unexpectedly hopeful final act. One that allows for a smidgen of light into a 99 percent dreary reality.

My thanks to friend of the blog, Andre Hagestedt, for recommending it. You may want to thank him, too.

Shock Waves (1977)

Long before Dead Snow thawed out a battalion of Nazi zombies, this low-budget creeper, written and directed by Ken Wiederhorn (Eyes of a Stranger, Meatballs II), spent a few decades bouncing around the Late Night Spook Show circuit.

Shock Waves stars horror vets Peter Cushing and John Carradine, as well as Luke Halpin from Flipper, all grown up into a blonde, mustachioed male lead, who must rally a crew of castaways marooned on an island awash in goggled zombies in SS uniforms.

Cushing brings a convincing accent, dandy scar makeup, and complete authority to his role as an exiled Nazi commander forced to live in an abandoned luxury resort on a nameless island somewhere in the ocean.

Guess he couldn’t make it all the way to Brazil.

Cushing patiently awaits the arrival of the soggy soldiers formerly under his command, who should be returning from Davey Jones’ Locker any day now.

Editor’s Note: Cushing plays Admiral Tarkin in Star Wars—the very same year!

John Carradine doesn’t get to do much as Ben, the cranky charter boat captain, but we do get to see him in a bathing suit. (Rrrrowr!)

Comely Brooke Adams stands out as Rose, a tourist who also looks smashing in swimwear.

The underwater photography, particularly when the Nazi zombies snap into formation and smartly march toward the surface, is eerie and strangely captivating, jarringly punctuated by Richard Einhorn’s dissonant electronic score.

No, they don’t eat flesh, but these genetically altered stormtroopers are consumed by a desire to kill, and they have thoroughly adapted to the life aquatic.

So what if they look like a techno band? Good stuff!

Stonehearst Asylum (2014)

An able cast saves the day!

Loosely based on Poe’s The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether, and directed by Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Session 9, Transsiberian), Stonehearst Asylum is a Victorian madhouse shocker in which the inmates literally take over the asylum.

Doctor Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess), an idealistic, Oxford-trained physician lands a job at a remote English asylum for wealthy lunatics, where he is taken under the wing by its director Dr. Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley).

Lamb chooses to leave the patients unmedicated and in some cases, even encourages them to pursue their delusions, as with the aristocrat who fancies himself a dog.

Newgate is drawn to Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), a posh patient suffering from hysteria, and almost immediately begins devising escape methods on her behalf, even as she warns him to get his own ass outta town.

Stonehearst Asylum takes its sweet time about getting anywhere, but when you’ve got a cast that includes Kingsley, Michael Caine, Brendan Gleeson, and David Thewlis as Lamb’s psychotic bully boy, Mickey Finn, it’s probably best to let these guys ham it up a bit.

Same goes for the ever-enchanting Kate Beckinsale, the ideal template for the role of the beautiful, mysterious madwoman in peril, with whom Newgate has no choice but to fall in love and try to rescue.

Who is she? Who is Newgate? Who is Lamb? Who is anybody in this picture?

Joseph Gangemi’s script wanders like a hippie on an OG Kush bender, but Anderson somehow guides his players to a blazing finale when murderous Mickey Finn bursts into flame and sets the whole place on fire.

I would characterize Stonehearst Asylum not only as a goth-styled thriller, but existing in the same cinematic universe as Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations, and some of Hammer Films’ more outrageous period pieces, that likewise usually conclude with the house burning down.

I almost added Ken Russell to that group. Stonehearst Asylum stops short of achieving anything as stylistically unhinged as Russell’s maddest work, which is a tall order to be sure.

On the other hand, if you enjoy kooky costume drama with a first-rate cast attached, this is an Everything Bagel.

Lantern’s Lane (2021)

True Confession. Role Playing Games once represented a huge part of my social life. Many’s the night we cast our dice to the wind playing Dungeons & Dragons, rolling up characters for some catastrophic quest or other, fortified by cheap beer and weak weed (and vice versa).

On the not-too-rare occasions when nobody really had their shit together enough to have an original adventure prepared, we relied on modules, or ready-made dungeons, that any half-bright game master could purchase at the local Nerd Boutique.

Lantern’s Lane, written and directed by Southern California filmmaker Justin LaReau, is a horror movie module. It’s a bare-bones slasher that hovers around the minimum requirement level in every department.

Nutshell: Homecoming Queen and all-around It Girl, Layla (Brooke Butler), returns to her hick hometown after graduating from college. She drops by the seedy saloon and reconnects with high-school chums Missy (Ashley Doris), a hottie waitress, Shana (Sydney Carvill), a former fat girl, and Jason (Andy Cohen, think Xander from Buffy The Vampire Slayer), the eunuch comic relief.

After a few shots of White Lightning, the onetime classmates drive out to Lantern’s Lane, a local hotspot for Urban Legends and paranormal activity, hoping to get a glimpse of the Old Lady with the Lantern, a tragic spook eternally searching for her dead hubby.

Instead, Layla and her mates end up stranded in an unfinished house, penned in by a knife-wielding psycho wearing a bug-eyed sack.

How basic can you get?

Sadly, most of the running time is devoted to devising escape plans that don’t work, and discussing how Layla is a bad friend for leaving their Podunk town and making a life for herself in the Big City.

By the time the maniac shows up, the characters have rehashed their petty grievances to the point that we’re hoping they get carved up like Christmas hams. No such luck, the body count is dismal and we get only trace amounts of viscera.

On top of all that, LaReau can’t write dialogue to save his life, seldom rising above “Let’s get out of here,” “I can’t do it,” and other throwaway panic phrases that come with the game setup.

The recurring problem with Lantern’s Lane is its lack of any distinctive characteristics. It isn’t scary, funny, bloody, sexy, or even atmospheric.

More like Lantern’s Lame, if you ask me.

Editor’s Note: Find additional content at facebook.com/horrificflicks

Alligator (1980)

Alligator is the correct and proper way to make a giant critter movie. People create the monster. Monster eats people.

A vacationing couple and their daughter watch an alligator nearly bite a man’s leg off at a hick circus in Missouri. Struck by the wonder of this magic moment, they buy their little girl her own baby gator from a nearby huckster.

Soon after the family’s return to Chicago, Dad flushes the little lizard down the crapper. See you later, alligator.

Fast forward 12 years and there’s a monster-sized alligator in the sewer.

While we could blame the irresponsible father who bought the damn thing in the first place, John Sayles’ civic conspiracy-minded script points the guilty finger at Slade (Dean Jagger), a cadaverous old CEO whose company’s clandestine experiments with growth hormones have dramatically affected the local food chain.

Troubled-but-honest cop David Madison (Robert Forester) is the detective saddled with the thankless job of going into the sewer and capturing the rampaging reptile. Through his frustrating quest, Sayles and director Lewis Teague reveal that corrupt politicians and muckraking journalists are no help whatsoever, and deserve to be eaten.

Madison enlists the help of gorgeous herpetologist Marisa Kendall (Robin Riker) in an effort to get inside the lizard brain, while the mayor (Jack Carter) brings in famous big game hunter Colonel Brock (Henry Silva) to slay the beast.

When Madison’s investigation gets too close to Slade Industries, the spineless mayor has him fired, removing the one competent person in Chicago that’s committed to stopping the creature.

Soon the alligator is popping up all over the place. A backyard swimming pool, a nearby canal, dark alleys, and eventually the posh wedding at Slade Mansion, where the monster eats its fill of the elite guest list and dispenses justice at the same time.

The reason Alligator is revered as a classic of the genre, is usually attributed to the presence of Sayles, who went on to direct lauded art-house fare like Matewan, Lone Star, and Passion Fish, making him a favorite among the well-heeled brie and festival crowd.

It doesn’t hurt that plot and characters mirror the Jaws template, even twisting the knife a little deeper into the culpability of swinish local officials.

The cast of marvelous professionals, including Forester, Riker, Silva, and Michael Gazzo as a beleaguered police chief, really nail the story in place and bring it to life. Every actor, from top to bottom, brings humor and humanity to their roles, and that gives the production a big lift.

Even ancient faces like Jagger and Mike Mazurki get a little screen time!

And let’s not forget the titular terror. There’s no CGI here, just miniature sets and strong practical effects that emphasize flailing bodies in the gator’s mouth, with blood gushing, and bones crunching.

As it should be. People getting eaten by monsters is, perhaps, the highest form of cinema.

The Requin (2022)

What the hell is a “Requin?”

Oh, it’s French for shark. Seems odd to name the movie after a character that doesn’t even show up for the first hour.

Prior to the shark’s arrival, we get Alicia Silverstone emoting all over the place as a woman on a tropical vacation with her husband (James Tupper).

Jaelyn (Silverstone) is having trouble getting her groove back after a recent bloody miscarriage. She and hubby Kyle take an exotic trip to coastal Vietnam, where a recuperative idyl is interrupted by a storm so fierce, their little hut on the beach is pulled out to sea.

As if they didn’t face enough obstacles as a couple.

The bickering duo spend a few months adrift (it sure feels like it, anyway) until the signal fire they build to attract planes and ships burns up their raft.

Still no shark.

Kyle and Jaelyn eventually reach a place in their relationship (and in the ocean) where they’re comfortable forgiving each other and working together to achieve mutual goals.

It’s at this point, about an hour into the movie, that director Le-Van Kiet finds the key to the shark cage. Suddenly the water is full of fins, despite the fact Kyle has been gushing Type O since Day One.

Rather than continue to listen to his batty wife, Kyle manages to get his legs eaten, effectively freeing his soul to go anywhere else.

I would like to offer a modest round of applause to Kyle, who never stops being a supportive, caring spouse, even after many hours spent floating in a water tank with a cranky costar. His ability to crack jokes in an effort to buoy his wife’s ever-changing moods is nothing less than heroic.

“I’m going to ask for a discount on the room,” he quips, earning him a brief smile.

As for Miss Silverstone, she endures mounting misery in true Perils Of Pauline fashion. One shark in particular (they named the movie after him!) pursues Jaelyn and devours the Vietnamese fisherman (Danny Chung) who rescues her, because no good deed goes unpunished.

The Requin is a big bucket of smelly chum with Amateur Hour special effects, but you kind of want to see it through—if only to find out how much worse things get for Alicia Silverstone, who is clearly having a real bad year.

The Hunting (2017)

Editor’s Note: If you’re in need of some fresh garbage, Tubi Channel is a greasy treasure trove of Don’t Go in the Woods epics like this one.

Hunting buddies go in search of their missing mentor in the cleverly titled thriller, The Hunting.

The movie is set in the year 1961. This is probably so director Blaine Gonzales and writer Trevor Doukakis wouldn’t have to worry about cell phones or realistic-looking weaponry.

Seven collegiate lads with plastic rifles rent boats for a camping trip to the mysterious Island of Hobbes, where their friend and teacher Dylan Kane (Bill Collins, a poor man’s Lance Henricksen) has gone to track down the Beast of Hobbes, a legendary bogeyman known to haunt the region.

Leadership responsibilities fall to Ryan (Corey De Silva), Kane’s favorite among the group, which also includes Leonard (Zeph Foster) a laconic tracker, and Al (Jarrett Patrick Burkett) a sniveling British crybaby who carries his gun by the barrel. We ain’t exactly talking about The Wild Bunch here.

Also showing up on the remote island that no one ever goes to is Kane’s plucky daughter Francine (Lisa Collins), who has a simmering crush on Ryan.

None of it adds up to squat, and the group is quickly decimated by a leaping figure in a gorilla suit with an elk-skull helmet. By this time, the viewer will have concluded that they are indeed watching crap, and should disengage with the narrative long enough to huff a couple bong hits, a choice of action that is highly recommended.

There is a reasonable body count here, and the fiend in the fur coat adds a gruesome cherry to the sundae by scalping the victims, perhaps a dig at our own genocidal history.

Even so, The Hunting is a credit-card cheap production, the acting is abysmal, and you will gain no experience points for watching.